"The Augustinian cardinals, whose splendid personal qualities and admirable virtues in how they carried themselves, shine with the glory of the purple, have magnificently demonstrated the Holy Roman Church." With this eulogy, the merits of the small number of cardinals the Augustinian Order had until the year 1614 were made known, at which time Oliviero Gatti's great engraving of the great tree of holiness and the glory of the Order was printed
The friars who have been called to this direct and close service with the successor of Peter in the almost 780 years of history of the Augustinians have not been representative of the diverse nature of the Order, with the majority being from the Italian peninsula. In fact, 10 out of 14 names are of Italian origin. Spain, Portugal, Malta and the USA each lay claim to one each of the remaining four. However, this in no way limits the varied experience and rich cultural and spiritual diversity that this modest number of cardinals the Order has been able to offer to the Church. Each, in his own way, has made a valuable contribution in a number of areas - governance, diplomacy, learning, pastoral care or theological research, to name a few. Augustinian cardinals, after years of service to the Order, were either Curia cardinals, serving in the various congregations and structures of the Holy See, or bishops immersed in the lives of their dioceses.
Bonaventura Badoer de Peraga (1332-1385), one of the founders of the University of Bologna, prior general and papal legate, was the original Augustinian cardinal. Created cardinal in 1378, he was called 'blessed' during his life and after his death on account of his reputation for holiness. For some, he was also considered a 'martyr' due to the tradition that tells of his bloody death on the Sant'Angelo bridge, considered by many to be the work of his enemy, the Lord of Padua. Cardinal Alessandro Oliva (1407-1463) follows next. A friend of Pius II, he was greatly appreciated by the pontiff for his gifts and virtues, so much so that Pius entrusted him with several peace missions. He had also been Prior General of the Order, albeit for a short time only. Created cardinal in 1460, he then received the titular church of Saint Susanna.
In the 16th century we find the great humanitarian Egidio da Viterbo (1469-1532), who promoted the Order's reform. For his efforts, he was created cardinal in 1512. He was a man of enormous culture and diplomacy. His opening speech at the Fifth Lateran Council, where he invited the Church to true reform, in head and heart, is renowned. In the same century we find the celebrated Girolamo Seripando (1492-1563), an Augustinian of great merit, both within his own religious family and in the universal Church. He also served as Prior General, encouraging the Hermit Order to reform and observe the Constitutions. A great preacher and thinker, he was appointed archbishop of the important diocese of Salerno. He was given the purple by Pius IV in 1561. He contributed greatly to the Church both as a conciliar father and as legate in the Tridentine assembly.
Next on the list of Augustinian cardinals is Gregorio Petrocchini (1536-1612), Prior General and later Bishop of Palestrina, created cardinal by Sixtus V. For twenty years, in this capacity, he exercised many offices, in full service to the successor of Peter. He attended six conclaves. In the 17th century, the figure of the great theologian Enrico Noris (1631-1704), a native of Verona, stands tall. A man of great intellect and erudition, he gave service to the Order through teaching. His theological publications were numerous, so much so that he is regarded as the father of the modern Augustinian theological school. He was created cardinal in 1695. Between 1700 and 1704, he served as Prefect of the Vatican Library.
During the Age of Enlightenment we find the Spanish Cardinal Gaspar de Molina y Oviedo (1679-1744). Created cardinal in 1737 by Clement XII. A few years earlier he had been appointed bishop of Santiago de Cuba, later receiving the episcopal see of Barcelona and later that of Malaga.
From the beginning of the 19th century to the 20th century - a time of great social upheaval and change - we have a good number of Augustinian cardinals. Patrício da Silva (1756-1840), an Augustinian from Portugal, was entrusted with the See of Evora by Pius VII in 1819. In 1826 he transferred to the See of Lisbon where he died in 1840. He was created cardinal by Leo XII at the time of the Restoration. A politician and diplomat, he was unable to participate in the conclaves that saw Popes Pius VIII and Gregory XVI elected due to political instability. Coming next is the first of the Martinelli brothers, Tommaso Maria (1827-1888). A native of Lucca, he entered the Order where he showed a talent for studies and teaching. As General Secretary, he accompanied General Paul Micallef on his visits to northern Europe. He was a member of the theological commission in preparation for the First Vatican Council, in which he also participated in person. He was given the cardinal's biretta by Pius IX in 1873. Around the same time we have Cardinal Luigi Sepiacci (1835-1893), a man of great learning, professor at Rome's Sapienza University, consultant to various Roman congregations. Leo XIII appointed him bishop of Callinico and cardinal in 1891.
Towards the end of the 19th century we find the figure of Agostino Ciasca (1835-1902), renowned Scripture scholar, orientalist, and a student of various ancient languages. For his intellectual merits he was appointed Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives. He also held the important post of Secretary of Propaganda Fide. It was Leo XIII who gave him the purple in 1899.
At the turn of the 20th century we have Sebastiano Martinelli (1848-1918), brother of Tommaso Maria. He too had served the Order as Prior General in 1889, and under him the Constitutions were updated. A consultor to the Holy Office, he had been appointed Apostolic Delegate to the United States of America in 1896. In that same year he was ordained bishop. He was created cardinal by Leo XIII in 1901, and two years later he took part in the conclave for the election of St. Pius X. He died in 1918.
After a gap of many years, the Order was able to rejoice in the elevation to Cardinal of the Maltese Prospero Grech (1927-2019). A scholar of Sacred Scripture and professor of Patrology, he founded with Fr Agostino Trapé the Patristic Institute Augustinianum, where he was appointed the first Dean. He had a long teaching career in various Roman institutions. In 2012 he was appointed titular bishop of San Leone and on 18 February of the same year he was created cardinal at the age of 87. Finally, today, September 30, 2023, the Augustinian Order rejoices once again with the creation of another of its sons as Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church: Robert F. Prevost (b.1955), a native of Chicago: canonist, missionary, ex-Prior General of the Order, Bishop Emeritus of Chiclayo and, since April of this year, Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops.
As we have seen, the lives and merits of Augustinian cardinals constitute a significant chapter in the history of the Order and the wider Catholic Church. Across centuries of spiritual commitment, teaching, and service to the Christian community, these men have embodied the Augustinian principles of truth-seeking, community life, and service to neighbour. Their stories bear witness to the importance and relevance of Augustinian spirituality in the world, to the value of study as part of the Order's charism, and to the fruits of their tireless work of evangelisation that has left an indelible mark on the Order, the Church and society.